April 01, 2017

No. 3 Florida gymnastics punches ticket to nationals after strong regional finish

GAINESVILLE

It was a shaky start, but Florida once again found a way to pull through.

Forget about sophomore Alicia Boren’s missed handstand on the bars to open the meet and freshman Rachel Gowey’s fall on the apparatus two routines later.

Forget about the .325 deficit the third-ranked Gators had against Georgia halfway through the meet.

And forget about the nerves and the tenseness this normally upbeat team felt as they entered their locker room with two events left.

Florida stormed through the final two rotations and overcame that early deficit to win the Gainesville Regional of the NCAA Gymnastics Championships on Saturday punched its ticket to nationals in St. Louis with a score of 197.125. The Bulldogs also advanced to nationals with a 196.775 score to take second in the O’Connell Center.

“Glad that’s over,” a relieved UF coach Jenny Rowland said immediately after the meet before letting out a brief yell of excitement.

It was a trying meet early on for the home team.

After those two mishaps on the bars, Florida finished with three stuck routines from junior Kennedy Baker (9.875), freshman Amelia Hundley (9.900) and junior Alex McMurtry (9.95).

“I’m normally pretty chill, but I was a little nervous that time,” Baker said of following up Gowey’s fall.

An 49.225 team score on the beam one rotation later -- highlighted by a 9.9 from McMurtry in the anchor spot -- gave Florida momentum heading into its bye.

“I could tell back there the weight had been lifted off our shoulders,” Rowland said.

Florida responded and closed out the meet with the top-two scoring rotations: A 49.45 on the floor and a 49.475 on the vault.

“We picked up some momentum there and we just had a blast,” said McMurtry, who was named the Southeast Region Gymnast of the Year and had the highest individual all-around score with a 39.675. “It was our last time this season in front of our fans. I think we did really well and built off every single score.”

Rowland added: “Regionals is always a challenging meet,” Rowland said. “It’s something that we don’t talk about. It’s do or die. You qualify or you don’t qualify.”

And now, Florida has qualified for nationals. Again. UF is heading to nationals for the 35th time in the 36-year history of the event and has a chance to win its fourth national title in five years.

“This team showed a lot of heart, a lot of determination and a lot of fight,” Rowland said. “It’s not over until that last routine.”

What you need to know ahead of the NCAA Gymnastics Regional

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-Photo by Jordan McPherson

The No. 3 Florida gymnastics team serves as the host one of six NCAA Regional meets this weekend, the final competition before the NCAA Championships in St. Louis. The meet, which features six teams, will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday in the O’Connell Center. A live stream will also be available on the SECNetwork+. But before teams take to the competition floor, here’s a quick look at what you need to know about the competition and the road ahead as college gymnastics begins postsesason action.

Continue reading "What you need to know ahead of the NCAA Gymnastics Regional" »

Florida football position previews: Speedy Massey's speedy recovery a plus for UF's receivers

Due to a slight change of events, I will be holding off on writing about the running backs until later in the series. Part 2 will now focus on the wide receivers.

Dre Massey was with his mom when he found out his first football season with the Gators was over before it could ever really start.

The speedy receiver and junior college transfer tore his ACL on the opening kickoff of Florida’s season, sidelining him for the rest of the season.

He was heartbroken at first. But then, after looking at his mom, he smiled.

“[It’s] like another storm,” Massey said. “We have to fight one more thing. And I’ll be back.”

Massey has fought through a lot to get to where he is in life.

He moved around a lot as a child. His dad died in a car accident before high school. His grades suffered for a period afterward.

He didn’t receive Division I offers because of his academics, forcing him to attend Holmes Community College in Goodman, Mississippi -- a small town of less than 1,500 people that didn’t even have a McDonald’s.

“That's why a lot of things don't really get me down,” Massey said.

And that’s why the versatile receiver has made it his mission to get back on the field.

Massey is limited to non-contact drills this spring while he finishes up the final bouts of his rehab, but one look at practice shows that he is close to being 100 percent ready to go.

During individual drills, Massey is able to make cuts with ease. His route running isn’t the crispest, but it’s improving.

And he’s still blistering fast.

“It’s tough to tell he went through an ACL except a couple times when you see the big brace,” receivers coach Kerry Dixon said.

That’s a good sign for Florida, which plans to use Massey in a myriad of ways this season.

His primary spot on the field looks to be slot receiver due to his 5-9, 180-pound frame. His speed, however, should provide a valiant mismatch against nickel corners and linebackers over the middle.

UF coach Jim McElwain said he also plans to use Massey in select packages out of the backfield as both a quarterback and a running back.

Whatever the situation, though, Massey endorses it as long as he has a chance to get touches.

“Whenever I touch the ball,” Massey said, “I can score anytime.”

But even if the ball isn’t going in Massey’s direction, his ability to spread the field will open opportunities for the rest of the receiving corps, a group that includes junior Antonio Callaway, senior Brandon Powell and sophomores Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond.

“He’s one of those guys that I’m extremely excited to get back,” Dixon said. “I know he’s going to be special.”

 

THE RECEIVERS ROOM

Key players on roster: Junior Antonio Callaway, redshirt junior Dre Massey, sophomore Tyrie Cleveland, sophomore Josh Hammond, sophomore Freddie Swain, senior Brandon Powell

Players lost: Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson, C.J. Worton

Coming this summer: Freshmen Daquon Green and James Robinson

Key Stats from 2016: 11.6 yards per catch (13th in SEC); Seven catches longer than 40 yards (tied for 11th in SEC)

Evaluation: The Gators are dealing with a lack of numbers this spring with Freddie Swain being held out for all of spring camp with a shoulder injury and Dre Massey only participating in non-contact drills. This leaves Florida with just six scholarship receivers until the summer, when Daquon Green and James Robinson join the team and the others get medically cleared. However, the group as a whole has promise. The return of Massey and the late development last season from Tyrie Cleveland give Florida more options to spread the ball around, which should take some pressure off Antonio Callaway.

March 30, 2017

Gators Position Preview: Franks looking to improve accuracy during QB battle

Editor’s Note: Starting today, I will be breaking down a different position group every day heading into Florida’s spring game on April 7. Each post will start with a mini feature on one player at each position and then transition to a nuts-and-bolts look at the group as a whole. First up, the quarterbacks.

Feleipe Franks re-watched Florida’s 2016 spring game.

And then he watched it again. And again. And again.

On that day, his first appearance in front of the home crowd, Franks threw three interceptions and looks out of sorts just about every time he dropped back to pass. He completed just five of his 11 pass attempts.

“You take everything away from it,” Franks said last week. “You learn from it, you learn from your mistakes. You go back and look at the film and see what you did wrong and then not do it again.”

That’s been Franks’ focus this spring as he battles with classmate Kyle Trask to become Florida’s next starting quarterback. Coach Jim McElwain said the race is still close, and Florida’s April 7 spring game will likely be the final factor in determining who will get the opportunity to start under center for the Gators on Sept. 2 against Michigan.

Franks, a 6-6 gunslinger, is known for his deep passes down the field, the ones that skirt the sideline that he hopes to place in his receiver’s hands for a big play.

But his accuracy in the short and mid-range passing game is the make-or-break factor for the 19-year-old.

He’s shown development.

On the first play of practice Wednesday, Franks dropped back, went through his progressions and fired a dart to his left toward Antonio Callaway about 10 yards down the field for an easy completion. It wasn’t the flashiest play of Franks’ career by any sense, but it’s the type of play the Gators will be looking for from the redshirt freshman should he win the quarterback job.

“I think everything in my game is improved,” Franks said. “I think coach Mac and coach Nuss did a great job just coaching me up and kind of building me into like what a quarterback needs to be."

But in order for him to show Florida fans what kind of quarterback he is, he still needs to edge out Trask.

“It’s a great competition between me and Kyle,” Franks said. “It’s the best one I’ve ever been a part of. It’s going to make me and him better every day and that’s everybody on the team -- better every day.”

 

QUARTERBACK ROOM

Key players on roster: redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, redshirt freshman Kyle Trask, redshirt junior Luke Del Rio

Key players lost: Austin Appleby

Don’t overlook: True freshman Kadarius Toney, who could be used in different Wildcat-type packages this season.

Key Stats from 2016: 215.8 passing yards/game (6th in SEC), 18 passing touchdowns (8th in SEC), 15 interceptions (tied for most in SEC)

Evaluation: Florida is primed to start yet another new face at quarterback this season, bringing the number to 10 since Tim Tebow’s final season in 2009. Franks has the potential to be a serviceable starter if he can continue improving his accuracy, but there are still doubts about whether the Gators’ long-term solution at quarterback is currently on the roster.

Friday's segment will feature the running backs.

March 28, 2017

Florida baseball uses big first inning, solid pitching to top FSU in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE

Mike Rivera watched the ball sail toward left field until it finally landed over the fence.

He wasn’t aiming for a home run, he would say, but after he circled the bases and tagged home in the first inning against Florida State, it all but sealed Florida’s win.

Rivera’s first home run of the season capped a four-run first inning and lifted No. 9 Florida to a 4-1 win over the 12th-ranked Seminoles on Tuesday at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home of the Marlins’ double-A affiliate Jumbo Shrimp. The win clinched the regular-season series for Florida (17-9), which has now won 14 of its past 17 against Florida State.

“Usually when the ball’s in the air, I’m going to watch it,” Rivera said. “I’m not very fast, so I don’t have to hustle.”

The early 4-0 lead set the stage well for freshman pitcher Garrett Milchin, who made his first collegiate start on the mound on Tuesday. The 6-5 righty tossed 4.1 scoreless innings on a pitch count, giving up just two hits and three walks and striking out a batter in the process, to earn his first career win in front of a split crowd of 8,927.

“I felt pretty good,” Milchin said. “I had a little bit of jitters the first inning, but I threw the first pitch in there, it felt good, and I kind of settled in.”

Milchin’s lone rough inning came in the third. He led off the frame by walking FSU’s Nick Derr, who advanced to second one batter later on a Matt Henderson groundout. Two batters later, Milchin walked Jackson Leuck before coach Kevin O’Sullivan made a trip to the mound. Milchin responded by forcing Cal Raleigh to fly out to center field.

Florida State (18-8) scored its lone run of the game in the sixth inning off UF reliever Nate Brown. Rhett Aplin hit a dribbler off second baseman Deacon Liput’s glove. The ball bounced into shallow center field, allowing Quincy Nieporte to score from second.

From there, sophomore Michael Byrne took the mound and retired 11 of Florida State’s final 12 batters to earn his second save of the year.

“I’m hoping our younger pitchers are watching [how Byrne pitches] because he’s throwing 87, 89, touches 90, but he commands the ball and it sinks,” O’Sullivan said. “He knows who he is.”

The efficient pitching -- along with quality defense from third baseman Jonathan India and shortstop Christian Hicks -- was needed considering Florida managed just two hits after the first inning.

“Make no mistake about it,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve struggled offensively for the first 20 games or so, but I did see life after the Stetson game [last Tuesday] … and then I thought against LSU [last weekend], I thought we swung the bats better.”

Florida, which has now won four of its past five games since being swept by Auburn to open SEC play two weekends ago, will next hit the road for a three-game series against Missouri starting Friday. The Tigers have lost three of their past four after rattling off a 20-game win streak.

March 27, 2017

Cameron Newbauer hired as next Florida women's basketball head coach

The Florida women’s basketball program has its next head coach.

The school announced Monday night that it has hired Belmont’s Cameron Newbauer to take over the program that has failed to live up to expectations.

Newbauer, 38, has led Belmont for the last four seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of the past two years by winning the Ohio Valley Conference. Last season, his Bruins went a perfect 16-0 in conference play before falling 73-70 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Kentucky.

Prior to becoming a head coach, Newbauer was a successful assistant coach at Siena (2001-05), Georgia (men’s team from 2005-07; women’s team from 2008-11) and Louisville (2011-13).

“Cameron Newbauer brings energy, vision and an incredible work ethic to the University of Florida,” Stricklin said in a release. “In addition to developing well-coached teams, he’s a hard-charger when it comes to recruiting and fan engagement. … I share his confidence that he can build Florida women’s basketball into a conference and national contender.”

The move comes three weeks after Amanda Butler was fired after 10 seasons on the job and is the first head coaching hire by new Florida Athletics Director Scott Stricklin. In her tenure,  Butler posted a 190-137 record, never finished hired than fourth in the Southeastern Conference and never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament in four appearances.

Florida finished the 2016-17 season with a 15-16 record (5-11 in SEC play), their second losing record in the last three seasons. The season looked promising heading in, with UF ranked No. 20 in the country in the preseason. However, senior guard Simone Westbrook tore her ACL before the season began and star combo guard Eleanna Christinaki transferred out of the program in December after she opted not to accept a half-game suspension for "violation of team culture." UF played most of the season with eight or nine healthy players, four of them freshmen.

“I know what we’d like to become; we want to be a tough, hard-working group that really cares for each other,” Newbauer said in a release. “We’re going to have fun. I want people to get to know us. We will welcome the community and want them to help build a tremendous environment.”

The Gators were reportedly also interested in San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that Hammon was considering a “lucrative offer” from Florida, but she declined the offer on Monday.

March 26, 2017

Gators baseball collapses late, drops series finale to LSU 10-6

GAINESVILLE

Florida looked like it had the game in the bag.

A 5-0 lead heading in the sixth inning on Sunday seemed like it would be enough for the 11th-ranked Gators, especially considering No. 5 LSU had scored just one run in the first two games and its offense had yet to record a hit with runners in scoring position.

But the Tigers found life in the final two innings, scoring eight unanswered runs to take the 10-6 win and avoid the series sweep.

Most of LSU’s damage came in the eighth inning.

Down 6-2 with Florida’s bullpen in full action, the Tigers (18-7, 4-2 SEC) hit three two-run home runs within the span of five batters to take its first lead of the series, 8-6, and chase four Florida pitchers off the mound. LSU added another pair of runs in the ninth to close it after Florida opened the series with 1-0 and 8-1 wins.

“It’s disappointing,” said UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who was with his team in the third-base dugout for about 10 minutes after the game. “It’s a disappointing loss.”

It started with Jackson Kowar, the sophomore righty who lasted just 5 2/3 innings and gave up four hits and five walks while only striking out three. He was pulled after loading the bases in the sixth with a pair of walks and a single. Two of those runs came around to score.

Of Kowar’s 94 pitches, just 58 were strikes and he had trouble commanding his fastball throughout the game.

“The standards here are pretty simple: You throw strikes or you’re not going to pitch,” Kowar said. “I didn’t throw strikes today. I didn’t get it done.”

Florida (16-9, 2-4 SEC) opened scoring in the third when Ryan Larson came home on a double steal. The Gators added a second run in the fourth on a Nelson Maldonado home run and then brought in three more in the seventh on a two-out, bases-loaded walk to JJ Schwarz and a full-count two-RBI single to shallow center field from Jonathan India to take a 5-0 lead.

LSU tacked on two when a Jordan Beau single to right center off Michael Byrne brought two across in the sixth.

A Schwarz sac fly to deep right field in the seventh gave Florida the 6-2 advantage before LSU dropped eight straight in the final two frames to leave Gainesville with a win.

“We just had to do a better job competing,” Schwarz said. “Whenever you get the chance to sweep on an SEC weekend, you have to take advantage and have that killer instinct. We didn’t have it today.”

March 25, 2017

Gators baseball clinches series vs. LSU but is 'here for the sweep'

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-Photo by Jordan McPherson

As the groundball rolled toward second base and Deacon Liput fired it to JJ Schwarz for the game-ending out on Saturday, Brady Singer pumped his chest and raised his right hand toward the sky.

The sophomore right-handed pitcher has been on his game all season, but his performance in No. 11 Florida’s series-clinching win over fifth-ranked LSU felt a little sweeter.

Singer threw his first career complete-game, giving up just six hits and one earned run to lead the Gators to an 8-1 victory at McKethan Stadium.

“It was really fun,” said Singer, who tossed Florida’s first complete game of the season. “I’m happy I pitched well.”

Continue reading "Gators baseball clinches series vs. LSU but is 'here for the sweep'" »

March 24, 2017

Alex Faedo responds to carry No. 11 Florida to 1-0 win over No. 5 LSU

GAINESVILLE

After Alex Faedo opened Southeastern Conference play with one of the worst showings of his collegiate career -- six earned runs surrendered, a career-high six walks allowed and just five strikeouts in a 14-6 loss -- Kevin O’Sullivan pulled him aside in practice this week.

The coach knew his ace pitcher could do better.

“A lot of yelling,” Faedo said. “But you have to take it the right way.”

Faedo, the 6-5 junior righty who has a chance to be a top-10 pick when the MLB Draft rolls around, responded in probably the best way he could. He worked seven scoreless innings against a hot-hitting LSU team, striking out seven and not giving up a walk to carry No. 11 Florida to a 1-0 win over the fifth-ranked Tigers at McKethan Stadium on Friday night.

Throwing in front of a crowd of 4,485 and at least a dozen scouts, just about every aspect of Faedo’s game was working. He hit his fastball consistently in the mid-90s, his slider was killer when he was ahead in the count and his energy on the mound jacked up the dugout every time he walked off the mound and put a zero on the scoreboard.

"There's never a doubt with Alex,” second baseman Deacon Liput said. “You know what you're going to get when he gets on the mound. ... Even after the thing in Auburn, I knew damn well he was going to come back."

And come back he did, giving the Gators (15-8, 1-3 SEC) a performance on the mound they needed after the offense did just enough to win.

After stranding four runners in the first five innings -- including leaving the bases loaded in the fifth despite getting all three runners on with no outs -- Florida scored the lone run of the game in the sixth inning. Liput started it off with a leadoff double, his second of three hits of the night. Fellow sophomore Jonathan India moved Liput to third on a sacrifice bunt before JJ Schwarz hit a pitch to the warning track deep in left field for the sacrifice fly to bring Liput home and ultimately give the Gators their first conference win of the season after being swept last weekend by Auburn for the first time since 1987.

“We needed to win one,” UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Obviously losing all three last weekend put ourselves a little bit behind the eight ball. It was a game we needed to win.”

After Faedo left the game with 114 pitches to his name, Michael Byrne, Andrew Baker and Tyler Dyson closed the game out for Florida with a pair of scoreless innings. Dyson earned his second save of the year by striking out the side.

“Alex pitched his butt off,” Dyson said. “He’s our anchor. He’s our ace and he’s the guy that we look to. When he has a performance like that and then Byrne and Baker come in, it’s important for me to come in and shut the door.”

Alex Lange, a potential first-round pick in his own right, drew the loss for LSU (17-6, 3-1 SEC) despite giving up just six hits in eight innings of work and retiring UF in order in four of those innings. He struck out seven.

Florida will look to clinch the series Saturday at 3 p.m. The three-game set concludes Sunday at 1 p.m.

After sluggish start, Gators baseball looking for turnaround against No. 5 LSU

After a couple of sloppy plate appearances during practice Wednesday, UF coach Kevin O’Sullivan called a team meeting just outside their third-base dugout.

It’s been a rough week for the Gators, who were swept last week by Auburn for the first time since 1987 and needed extra innings Tuesday night to defeat a struggling Stetson team.

“I’m tired of losing,” the coach told his team, which fell to No. 11 in the D1baseball poll after opening the year six weeks ago as the No. 2 team in the country.

The team is pressing and most of the offense is in a slump. Not exactly the ideal scenario to set up a three-game weekend set with LSU that starts on Friday.

But with that new series, one that has the potential to start a much-needed turnaround for the 14-8 Gators, O’Sullivan is stressing the importance of closing the door on the rough patch that opened the season and starting anew.

“You think of it as a new season,” the 10th-year head coach said. “There’s nothing we can do about last weekend. It’s over and done with. And that’s kind of the mentality that we’ve got to have.”

But until the hitters start producing at the plate, last weekend’s shellacking at Auburn -- and the hitting struggles evident throughout the first month and a half -- will still likely be in their heads.

Heading into the series with LSU, the Gators have a .243 team batting average, which is second-worst in the 14-team Southeastern Conference. Three hitters with at least 40 at-bats have more strikeouts than hits: JJ Schwarz (19 hits, 24 strikeouts), Deacon Liput (14 hits, 20 strikeouts) and Keenan Bell (12 hits, 13 strikeouts). Florida has posted a batting average below .200 in seven of its 22 games this season, including two of its three losses against Auburn.

“Inevitably you always got a guy or two that’s struggling, and two other guys have picked the offense up. I’m not quite sure I’ve seen this many guys struggle at the same time,” O’Sullivan said. “And I think what probably we’re doing, we’re probably putting too much pressure on themselves. Each guy probably has taken it upon themselves to pick up the offense. And I think swings have gotten really big, and I think they’re swinging too hard.”

Players have said it’s just a matter of time before they start putting everything together.

“Once we start clicking, we’ll be a scary team,” third baseman Jonathan India said. “We’ll be fine. We’re all right.”

They’ll need a full team effort against No. 5 LSU (17-5), one of the most complete teams in the SEC and the country.

On offense, the Tigers have five regulars batting above .300, with Cole Freeman leading the way with a .400 clip that is tied for fourth-highest in the conference. Senior Kramer Roberson leads the SEC with 33 runs scored and had 10 runs alone in LSU’s three-game sweep over Georgia. For comparison, the Gators scored nine total runs as a team in their three losses to Auburn.

On the mound, LSU has potential first-round pick Alex Lange and senior Jared Poche’ to lead off their weekend rotation. Lange, a junior righty, is 3-1 on the year and ranked seventh in the conference with 36 strikeouts. Poche’, a soft-throwing lefty whose fastball doesn’t reach 90 mph, has given up just one earned run in 36 innings of work this season.

“It’s a good rivalry,” India said. “We’re both great teams, great programs for years. It’s a great SEC rivalry. We just have great players on each team.”

March 10, 2017

SEC Tournament: Florida-Vanderbilt Preview

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn.

The No. 2 seed Gators open Southeastern Conference Tournament action in Nashville at 7 p.m. against No. 7 seed Vanderbilt. Here’s a quick glance at the matchup

How they got here:

As a top-four seed, Florida (24-7) earned a coveted double-bye in the conference tournament. Vanderbilt (18-14) advanced to the quarterfinals following a 66-41 win over 10th-seeded Texas A&M on Thursday. Guard Joe Toye scored a team-high 18 points while Riley LaChance added 14.

Regular season matchups

Vanderbilt swept the Gators in the regular season, taking a 68-66 win in Gainesville on Jan. 21 and then closing out the regular season with a 73-71 win in Nashville. Overall, the Commodores have won four straight against the Gators dating back to last season and are the only conference team second-year UF coach Mike White has not recorded a win against.

Players to watch

Florida

KeVaughn Allen: While the sophomore shooting guard paces the team with a 13.9 points-per-game average and has made a team-best 67 3s, he has a tendency to be streaky and disappear late in games. Florida will need Allen to get hot early and stay hot in order to have a chance to snap its losing streak against Vanderbilt.

Kasey Hill: The lone four-year senior on Florida’s roster, Hill is the team’s de-facto leader on and off the court. The 6-1, 175-pound point guard is having a career year in scoring (9.6 points per game), rebounding (2.3 per game) and assists (4.6 per game). But since dishing out a career-best 12 assists against Auburn, Hill has recorded just 11 assists while turning the ball over 18 times in Florida’s past five games.

Canyon Barry: The SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year, Barry is averaging 12.5 points off the bench and has shown improved defensive prowess over the season.

Vanderbilt

Luke Kornet: Kornet can do it all. He’s third in the conference with 64 blocks. He’s second on Vanderbilt’s team with 13.5 points per game and is making 85.3 percent of his free throws. He can score in the paint. He can make jump shots. He can defend the glass and be a force in the post. In two games against Florida this year, Kornet has scored 35 points on 11-of-23 shooting while also corralling 10 rebounds and blocking three shots.

Riley LaChance: LaChance is the Commodore’s most dangerous offensive weapon from beyond the arc. Heading into Friday’s matchup, the junior has made a blistering 48.8 percent of his three-pointers.

Postseason projections

Florida

The Gators are projected to be a No. 4 seed East Region by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and would play their first two games in Orlando. If the seedings hold, Florida would open against East Tennessee State and would play the winner of No. 5 Notre Dame and 12th-seeded UNC Wilmington in the second round.

Vanderbilt

Lunardi projects the Commodores to be an 11th seed also in the East Region. If the seedings hold, Vanderbilt would start by facing No. 6 seed Wisconsin. If the Commodores advance, they would face the winner of No. 3 seed Florida State and No. 14 seed Winthrop for a spot int eh Sweet 16.

March 07, 2017

Mike White named SEC Coach of the Year, three players also honored

After leading Florida to a 24-7 record and a second place finish in the Southeastern Conference, second-year UF head coach Mike White was named the conference's coach of the year, the league office announced Tuesday.

Under White's tutelage, the Gators are bound for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

“It’s a prestigious honor," White told reporters in Gainesville on Tuesday. "I’ve always been a fan of the Southeastern Conference and it’s an honor to be a part of this conference. Any time you get an award, and I don’t want to take it lightly, but I also understand awards follow good teams."

And his team earned recognition as well.

Graduate transfer Canyon Barry was named the conference's Sixth Man of the Year, an award given to the best player coming off the bench. Barry, a 6-6, 215-pound guard, finished the regular season averaging 12.5 points per game -- second on the team only to KeVaughn Allen. Barry also broke Florida's record for most consecutive free throws made at 42.

Allen was named to the coaches' All-SEC first team. The sophomore shooting guard paced Florida with a 13.9 points-per-game average and made a team-best 67 three-pointers. Senior point guard Kasey Hill landed on the conference's second team and also earned a spot on the SEC All-Defensive team.

"I have good players. I have a good team," White said. "I have a really, really good staff, and when you’re staff is a team themselves, they’re hitting on all cylinders and all pulling in the same direction and you have good talent and you have good kids, you win games. When you win games, guys get awards. I’m really happy for the individual awards our guys achieved. They’re all very well deserved.”

March 06, 2017

Amanda Butler fired after 10 seasons as Florida women's basketball head coach

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-Photo by Jordan McPherson

Amanda Butler had the chance to make a name for herself in the coaching world at the University of Florida, at the same place and on the same court that she played on for four years as a college student. 

On Monday, her 45th birthday, her chances ran out. UF announced Butler had been fired after 10 seasons. It is the first coaching change under new athletics director Scott Stricklin.

“Amanda obviously loves the University of Florida. She worked tirelessly trying to grow this program and help it achieve consistent success, and her efforts will always be appreciated,” Stricklin said in a release. “These decisions are always difficult, and more so in this instance because of the person Amanda is and how well she is liked throughout our department.

Butler, who played point guard for the Gators from 1990-1994 and turned 45 on Monday, led the Gators to four NCAA Tournament appearances. The Gators, however, never made it out of the first weekend in any of the appearances. Florida never finished higher than fourth in the SEC regular-season standings. 

“I appreciate the opportunity that was given to me as a young head coach to return to my alma mater, a place I love and where I developed many special relationships and memories,” Butler, who finished with a 190-137 record as UF's coach, said in a release. “The future is bright for the program.”

The Gators finished the 2016-17 season with a 15-16 record (5-11 in SEC play), their second losing record in the last three seasons. The season looked promising heading in, with UF ranked No. 20 in the country in the preseason. However, senior guard Simone Westbrook tore her ACL before the season began and star combo guard Eleanna Christinaki transferred out of the program in December after she opted not to accept a half-game suspension for "violation of team culture." UF played most of the season with eight or nine healthy players, four of them freshmen.

“We will immediately begin the process of finding a new women’s basketball coach," Stricklin said. "I believe this program has the resources and support to achieve sustained success and compete for championships.”

Stricklin has had success finding successful women's basketball coaches before. As the AD at Mississippi State, Stricklin hired Vic Shaeffer in 2012 to lead the Bulldogs' women's basketball program. After going 13-17 and 22-14 in his first two years at the helm, Shaeffer has led Mississippi State to three-straight years with at least 27 wins for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs are 29-4 this year and ranked seventh in the country ahead of the NCAA Tournament.

March 05, 2017

UF athletics update: March 5, 2017

In addition to the football team beginning spring practice and the 12th-ranked men’s basketball team finishing second in the Southeastern Conference, a lot has been going on in the world of Florida athletics. Here’s a brief update on each of the other teams currently in the midst of their seasons.

Baseball

The No. 2 ranked Gators are off to a 10-2 start this season, are a perfect 9-0 in their weekend series and most recently finished off a three-game sweep of Columbia by scores of 7-0, 7-2 and 8-4. The pitching staff -- led by weekend starters Alex Faedo, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar along with senior closer Frank Rubio -- have carried the team in the early part of the year while the offense continues to find its groove. Florida has a collective 2.62 ERA through the first dozen games. Only three hitters are above .300 to start the year.

Gymnastics

The third-ranked Florida gymnastics team finished second in the SEC regular-season race following a lackluster appearance at No. 2 LSU on Sunday. Florida had a season-high eight routines out of 24 score below a 9.8 in the Gators’ 198.150-196.600 loss to the Tigers. It was UF’s first meet of the year with a team score below 197. The highlight for Florida was Alex McMurtry’s 10 on vault, the second of her career on the event and her fifth perfect score overall. It was one of just five scores at or better than a 9.9.

Florida (7-2, 5-2 SEC) finishes its regular season at home against West Virginia on Friday before heading to Jacksonville for the SEC Championships the following week.

Softball

The No. 3 Gators finished their pre-conference slate at 20-1 and found just about every way possible to win. Florida recorded 13 shutouts during its first 21 games -- including a perfect game by senior Delanie Gourley against Iowa on Thursday -- and had 10 games where the team scored at least eight runs (including 7 of those shutout victories). Heading into SEC play, which begins March 11 against Missouri, UF’s pitching staff holds a .70 ERA and has struck out 213 batters compared to just 23 walks. Junior Kayli Kvistad (team-best .479 batting average), redshirt freshman Sophia Reynoso (.456 batting average, team-best 26 hits) and freshman Jamie Hoover (team-best 24 RBI) are pacing the offense.

Track and Field

Florida heads into the two-day NCAA Indoor Championships on Friday following a third-place showing at SECs by the men’s team and an eighth-place performance by the women. UF has 17 total entries (11 men; six women).

Swimming and Diving

The men’s team won its fifth straight SEC Championship back in February, while the women finished seventh. NCAAs are set for March 15-18 for the women and March 22-25 for the men.

Lacrosse

No. 3 Florida lacrosse is off to a 3-1 start to the season and has won three straight after a season-opening 13-10 loss to North Carolina. UF’s high-octane offense is averaging 15.75 goals per game and is led by senior Mollie Stevens (13 goals), junior Shayna Pirreca (12 goals) and senior Sammi Burgess (10 goals).

Women’s Basketball

The women’s basketball team’s season came to an end following a 67-48 loss to Texas A&M in the second round of the SEC Tournament. Florida finished the season at 15-16, its second losing season in the past three years.

Tennis

The top-ranked women’s team is a perfect 10-0 to start the year. The 13th-ranked men’s team is 8-5 to start the season, with four of the five losses coming against top-16 opponents.

No. 12 Florida hoops falls to Vanderbilt in regular-season finale, holds No. 2 seed in SEC Tournament

Despite shooting better from the field and holding a slight rebounding margin, the No. 12 Florida Gators men's basketball team fell 73-71 on the road to Vanderbilt on Saturday to close out the regular season.

Canyon Barry paced Florida's offense with a team-high 15 points off the bench, while KeVaughn Allen added 13 -- all in the first half.

But Florida (24-7, 14-4 SEC) was unable to stop Vanderbilt's Luke Kornet. The center tallied a game-high 24 points on 7-of-17 shooting and sank 8 of his 10 free throws -- including six of eight down the stretch to allow Vanderbilt (17-14, 10-8 SEC) to sweep the season series despite the Gators leading by as many as 12 points.

With the loss -- and the subsequent 71-63 win by No. 9 Kentucky -- the Gators will be the No. 2 seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Nashville and earned a coveted double bye. Florida will face the winner of 10th-seed Texas A&M and seventh-seed Vanderbilt on Friday, with tipoff set for 7 p.m. 

The full bracket with dates and times can be found here (Note the tipoffs are in central time).

March 01, 2017

Kasey Hill not letting Senior Night hype get in way of winning

Kasey Hill knows the importance of Wednesday’s game against Arkansas.

Yes, it will be his final game in the O’Connell Center.

Yes, it marks the beginning of the end of the point guard’s UF career.

But Hill isn’t focusing on that.

With No. 12 Florida coming off a 76-66 loss to Kentucky -- the Gators’ first defeat in five week -- and two games left before the postseason begins, Hill and UF are using this final week of the regular season to regain their stride when it matters the most.

“I just want to go out and win," Hill said.

Continue reading "Kasey Hill not letting Senior Night hype get in way of winning" »

Two-way players and one interesting rule could give UF baseball a unique advantage this season

DSC_3753

-Photo by Jordan McPherson

GAINESVILLE

Kevin O’Sullivan has a set of luxuries on his baseball team this season that have been few and far between during his first nine seasons as the head coach of the Florida Gators: Two-way players.

They are those rare players who have the ability to contribute to the team both on the mound as a pitcher and in the field as position players.

In total, O’Sullivan has seven of these two-way players at his disposal this season. Six of them are freshmen.

“I've always enjoyed those type of players,” O’Sullivan said back in the fall. “I think they're better baseball players.”

They also allow O’Sullivan the opportunity to get creative with how he plays matchups with his bullpen.

Continue reading "Two-way players and one interesting rule could give UF baseball a unique advantage this season" »

February 28, 2017

No. 2 Florida baseball tops UCF 4-3

GAINESVILLE

Nick Horvath saw the signal from coach Kevin O’Sullivan with one out left to go, trotted from center field and made his way back to the mound.

Two innings earlier, the junior lefty fought back from a 3-0 count with the bases loaded to force a groundout on a full count and strand all three UCF runners.

Another full-count battle ensued, this time with Knights pinch-hitter Austin Griffin. And then, with his 17th pitch of the night on his second mound appearance, Horvath struck out Griffin swinging to preserve No. 2 Florida’s 4-3 win over UCF on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium and earn his first save of the season.

“You have to go right at them,” Horvath said. “Right from the get-go.”

In a game where Florida (7-1) recorded just four hits, the Gators opened scoring in the third inning with a Blake Reese double to center field that was about 5 feet short of clearing the fence. Reese himself scored three at-bats later when UCF shortstop Brennan Bozeman failed to properly field a Jonathan India groundball.

Reese added more insurance in the fourth with a bloop single to shallow center to score Keenan Bell before UCF (7-1) attempted to mount a comeback. The Knights scored a run each in the sixth and seventh before Mark Kolozsvary cranked out a solo home run on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the seventh to give UF its decisive score.

Freshman Nate Brown, making his first career start, earned the win after three scoreless innings of work. The righty scattered three hits, struck out five and walked two before giving way to a trio of freshmen in Kirby McMullen (2.0 innings), Andrew Baker (1.0 inning) and Garrett Milchin (0.1 inning). The trio of relievers combined to give up five hits and a pair of runs with one strikeout to two walks against a veteran UCF lineup that had six upperclassmen in the starting lineup.

“There’s a lot to be said about players who have 400 or 500 college at-bats under their belt and guys who are coming to the mound for the first time that have never pitched before in a live game,” O’Sullivan said. “From that standpoint, I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Horvath recorded the pivotal two outs in the seventh before senior Frank Rubio took over to pitch a perfect eighth and get two outs in the ninth. Horvath, who went to center field after his first appearance, came up with a pair of runners on for a situational matchup facing a lefty batter to clinch the game.

Florida will now travel to Orlando for a second midweek game against UCF on Wednesday.

Spring Practice Notes: Quarterbacks have solid first practice

On the final play of Florida's fastball period that ushered in spring practice on Tuesday, quarterback Feleipe Franks fired a pass down the right sideline.

Tyrie Cleveland rose up, caught the pass over cornerback Duke Dawson and landed in the end zone. Touchdown.

"Those guys aren’t afraid to throw the ball down the field, no doubt about it," UF coach Jim McElwain said. "We’ve got a couple guys that can chase it down. That’s fun to see."

It was a solid start to the first practice of the season for the redshirt freshman.

And it was the type of performance McElwain wanted to see from both Franks and fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask as they begin their battle to be the Gators' next starting quarterback.

Both Franks and Trask had more positives than negatives during the portion of practice the media was able to watch on Tuesday. Their teammates have been supporter as well.

"They both were trying to compete. They were both trying to make plays," senior wide receiver Brandon Powell said. "That's what you want to see out of your quarterbacks. I mean, it's Day 1, but we'll see how it progresses."

Left tackle Martez Ivey added: "They got to get their first-game jitter out, and after that there’s no ceiling for them. The sky’s the limit.”

More practice notes

McElwain said the team was ahead of schedule following their first practice and was happy with the carry over from the returning players. 

That's something he'll need with a new starting quarterback expected to lead the team and eight defensive starters from a year ago no longer on the roster.

"As you look roster wise, we are relatively young in age and yet we've got some experience," McElwain said. "And you can see that a lot of the guys really carried through on that, and I was really excited about the tempo in which they practiced, the way they attacked it and really the way they helped each other get better -- the competition part was fantastic. And that's exciting to see."

Opening fastball starters

Quarterback: Feleipe Franks

Running back: Jordan Scarlett

Wide receivers: Antonio Callaway and Tyrie Cleveland

Tight ends: DeAndre Goolsby and C'yontai Lewis

Offensive line (L-R): Martez Ivey, Tyler Jordan, TJ McCoy, Fred Johnson, Jawaan Taylor

Defensive line: CeCe Jefferson, Taven Bryan, Khairi Clark, Keivonnis Davis

Linebacker: Vosean Joseph, Cristian Garcia, Kylan Johnson

Cornerback: Chauncey Gardner and Duke Dawson

Safeties: Marcell Harris and Nick Washington 

 

2017 Spring Football Primer: Early Enrollees and Position Breakdowns

McElwain

-Photo by Jordan McPherson

Take a deep breath, everyone. You can finally say it. Football is back. The Gators open spring practice on Tuesday with the first of 15 practices that will culminate with the Orange & Blue Spring Game on April 7.

A lot notable faces -- among them Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Jarrad Davis, Joey Ivie, David Sharpe, Alex Anzalone, Marcus Maye and Austin Appleby -- are gone, but a talented group returns for head coach Jim McElwain’s third season at the helm as UF attempts to reach the Southeastern Conference Championship for the third straight year.

As things start to get underway, here is a one-stop-shop primer for what to expect from the team this spring.

 

Continue reading "2017 Spring Football Primer: Early Enrollees and Position Breakdowns" »


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